11 WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS WHEN YOU ARE IN A CAR ACCIDENT
Over the years, I’ve handled numerous car accident cases and in most instances the persons involved have no idea what they should or should not do in order to protect their legal rights and interests. I have prepared this special report in order to let you know what you need to do if you are in a wreck and why it is important to do these things. Remember, the insurance company will begin working on the case and gathering this information as soon as they can. If this occurs, you need to know what to do to help strengthen your claim and maximize your recovery if you are injured. Otherwise, you could be left paying for property damage and medical treatment that wasn’t your fault.
DO call an ambulance if anyone is visibly injured and DO seek medical treatment for injuries as soon as possible after the wreck.
If anyone is visibly injured, it is important to call an ambulance or get him/her to the hospital as soon as possible to be diagnosed and treated for the injuries. However, because of the shock and excitement involved with the accident, some injuries do not appear until several hours or days after the wreck. At some point after the wreck, you may begin to feel muscle soreness and stiffness. If this occurs, you should go to the Emergency Room or your doctor to be examined because your injury may be more severe than you think. Also, later on, when discussing damages in your case, it is important to have your initial complaints and symptoms documented by a medical professional to prove you were injured. I have tried on several occasions to convince the insurance company that my client was injured in a wreck which occurred one month before he/she began getting treatment for the injury. It doesn’t work! While these people were truly injured, I had a hard time convincing the insurance company since there was no medical documentation within a reasonable time after the wreck.
DO NOT leave the scene of the accident or move the vehicles.
It is against the law to leave an accident scene or move the vehicle if there is damage to another vehicle or someone is injured or dies. Also, if you leave the scene of the accident or move the vehicles, the police will not be able to diagram the accident scene and determine who is at fault. If it is a swearing match between you and the other driver as to who is at fault, moving the vehicle could directly affect your ability to prove your case. Further, if one party moves his/her vehicle or leaves the scene, that gives the presumption that he/she was at fault. I have had several cases in which a swearing match ensued between the parties as to who was at fault, but my client left his car where it was struck and the other party moved his/her car. The fact that we were able to determine where my client’s vehicle was when it was struck disproved the claim of the other party that the wreck was the fault of my client. (I have also been on the other side of this mess and know how important it is not to move the vehicle.)
DO NOT admit fault to the police or the other driver.
Don’t talk to the other driver, other than to ask about injuries, because anything you say could be used against you later. When talking with the police, just describe the facts of the accident. Anything you say to the police will be written in the police report and, later, could be used against you. Oftentimes people will apologize for a wreck even if it is the other party’s fault. The at fault driver will always remember this and, when asked about the accident, will volunteer that "she said she was sorry the wreck happened" or was "sorry I was hurt." While you are not specifically admitting fault, this is a hard statement to overcome and explain away. It can make a clear cut case murky.
DO get the names, addresses, phone numbers, driver’s license information, license plate number and insurance information of the persons involved in the wreck.
This is important information and will assist you in determining who the parties are and if there is insurance coverage. If you are unable to find the offending driver and don’t know who his/her insurance company is, you may have to file a claim with your insurance company and your rates could be affected or your insurance could be canceled if you have too many claims reported against you.
DO look for witnesses and get their names, addresses and phone numbers.
This is very important, especially if you and the other driver(s) differ on how the wreck occurred. To find witnesses, look for bystanders, other vehicles which may have stopped, clerks or customers in nearby shops, people at their homes, etc. Ask them what they saw. If there are other cars stopped, get the license numbers. This will help you find possible witnesses.
DO call the police.
Police can provide great assistance in investigating the accident scene and determining who was at fault. I often get calls from people who have been in accidents, particularly on parking lots, where the police did not investigate. These are usually swearing matches as to who is at fault and there are no witnesses. Because there was no investigation, these people often can’t prove their case and are unable to collect damages. Police won’t investigate an accident on a parking lot; however, they may file a report if there are injuries.
DO take pictures of the accident scene and the vehicles.
If you happen to have a camera with you at the time, take pictures of the accident scene, the vehicles, any debris or skid marks and of yourself and others for injuries. This will help document all your claims as to how the accident occurred, the speed of the vehicles, the point of impact and injuries suffered. If you do not have a camera and there is a convenience store close by, send someone to buy a disposable camera. If not, take pictures of your vehicle and the damage to it as soon as possible after the wreck.
Most police have cameras with them in their cars. Ask them to take pictures. You can order copies later.
DO check the other car for damage and note where the damage is.
This is very important for two reasons: First, if the wreck is your fault, you do not want the other driver making a claim against your insurance for damage that did not occur in this wreck; and Second, if you and the other driver differ on how the wreck occurred, where the damage is located on the car (point of impact) could assist in proving your version of the wreck. Unfortunately, I have been on the other side of this, where my client was claiming damage to his/her vehicle and pictures taken the day of the wreck showed that some of the damage claimed wasn’t there. I have also heard of an instance where a person suffered a legitimate injury in a wreck, but because of his excessive claim of property damage, he lost his credibility regarding his injury claim.
DO notify your insurance company of the wreck but DO NOT give or sign a written or recorded statement for any insurance company or its investigators or representatives until you get legal advice.
Let us report the accident for you. If you decide to do it yourself, just tell your insurance company the facts of the accident, where it happened, when it happened, who was involved, etc., when you initially report it but DO NOT give a full written or recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company. Contrary to what they may tell you, the insurance adjusters are not there to help you. They are there to try to reduce the fault of their driver and any damage or injury suffered by you. Remember, they are professionals trained to do this type of work. It would be to your benefit to have a professional working for you to level the playing field.
DO tell the doctors about all of your complaints from the injuries you suffered in the wreck.
Make sure you tell your doctor(s), nurse(s), physicians’ assistant(s), etc., all of the physical, mental and emotional problems or complaints you have as a result of the wreck. When discussing your problems, if you have anxiety, depression or the like, make sure the health care providers know and document this. Further, make sure you tell your health care providers all of the daily living activities that you can no longer perform or are restricted in performing, such as chores around the house, cooking meals, playing with your kids, walking the dog, your inability to sleep, etc. Also, let them know about your inability to do your job or certain duties with your job, such as lifting or carrying certain things or the inability to be on your feet as long as it is required or walk the distances required. Insurance companies want documentation and if a problem is not documented, the insurance company will not consider it and it could reduce the value of your claim.
DO CALL a lawyer if you have any questions about your rights or what to do in this situation.
I hope this information has been both informative and helpful. Remember, it is very important to protect yourself if you are involved in a wreck. Statistics and studies have shown that insurance companies pay out less to people who try to settle the claim themselves than to those represented by lawyers. I have also authored a Special Report on Secrets the Insurance Company Doesn’t Want You To Know. If you have any questions about this information or want a copy of my Special Report or need legal help, please call me at (304) 345-3400 or 1-800-247-2845. I am located in Charleston WV.